NAS

Photo: Jess Mador/100 Days in Appalachia

One-month-old Cayden wakes with a fierce cry and clenched fists as a nurse places her on a metal scale to check her weight. When she was born, the infant, now dressed in tiny pink socks, flowery leggings and a bright yellow polkadot top, weighed 6 pounds, 7 ounces and was at risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome. 

“Have you noticed any tremors, tight muscles?” Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Amber Knapper asked Cayden’s mother. 

Tight muscles and tremors are among a long list of symptoms connected to neonatal abstinence syndrome, commonly known as NAS, a condition where babies are born in withdrawal from opioid drugs their mothers used during pregnancy. 


Photo: Joanie Tobin/100 Days in Appalachia

This week on Inside Appalachia, we’re dedicating our episode to all the children who are affected by substance abuse before they're even born. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a topic that is heartbreaking, but critically important for us to spend some time understanding. The stigma that follows mothers, and their unborn babies, is keeping them from getting the prenatal care, and help for recovery, that women across our region desperately need. 

100 Days in Appalachia

If you ask state departments, “Are there standards of care that all facilities treating opioid-dependent pregnant women have to follow?” The short answer is, “No, there are not exact protocols on how to do that,” said Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Public Health. 

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A new study has found that long-term unemployment and a shortage of mental health providers is associated with higher levels of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The study was published this week in the journal of the American Medical Association. It looked at how county economic factors – particularly unemployment rates – were related to the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or NAS. NAS happens when a baby withdraws from drugs they were exposed to in the womb.

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A Charleston-based law firm has filed a class action suit against 21 medical companies, including the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma to sue for damages incurred by prenatal exposure to opioids

The suit was filed this week by the firm Thompson and Barney. Kevin Thompson said the intent is to create a fund for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, meaning infants born dependent to opioids.

“In this case the equitable relief would be a medical monitoring fund,” Thompson said.

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West Virginia will be the first state in the nation to allow Medicaid to fund treatment for newborns exposed to opioids in the womb.

When their exposure to opioids ends at birth, infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome experience withdrawal symptoms. They include tremors, vomiting, seizures, excessive crying and sensitivity to loud noises, lights and colors. Infants are weaned from opioid dependence by using small doses of morphine or methadone.

Perry Bennett West Virginia Legislative Photography

U.S. Congressman Evan Jenkins visited Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston today to hold a roundtable with local experts about how best to address addiction and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The roundtable was attended by about 20 health workers and community members, most of whom deal with addiction, including neonatal abstinence syndrome on an almost daily basis.

“The disease, yes disease of addiction is our most challenging public health and safety issue of our time,” Jenkins said during an opening statement.

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A young mom – we’ll call her Patient A – is sitting on a couch holding her infant son at Karen’s Place, the newest in-patient treatment program for pregnant women in Louisa, Kentucky.

She smiles down at the healthy infant in her arms, then begins to talk about her older son – now 2½.

“He was actually born addicted,” she said.

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She asked to not be identified. And it’s understandable given the stigma attached to addiction. For this story, we’ll call her “Mary.”

Mary lives in eastern Kentucky and has struggled with an addiction that began with painkillers and progressed to heroin.

“As soon as I opened my eyes, I had to get it,” Mary said. “And even when I did get it, then I had to think of the next way that I was going to get.”

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Mangus Manske

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito introduced a federal bill Friday with bipartisan backing that would help newborns suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome have access to quality care.

The Caring Recovery for Infants and Babies Act, also known as CRIB, would recognize residential pediatric recovery facilities as providers under Medicaid.

This means the families whose newborns are born with NAS will be able to bill Medicaid for the services offered.

Baby
Mangus Manske

Legislation designed to support babies born addicted to drugs passed unanimously in the United States House Of Representatives yesterday.

The bill is called The Nurturing and Supporting Healthy Babies Act. It was introduced by West Virginia U.S. representative Evan Jenkins. It is designed specifically to help babies who have neonatal abstinence syndrome, also known as NAS.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito is sponsoring a federal bill to examine the rising rate and treatment costs of neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS.

Senator Capito introduced the bi-partisan bill Friday, along with two other U.S. senators.

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Neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS as it’s known in the medical community, is yet another problem that stems from the heroin epidemic ravaging West Virginia. NAS occurs in newborns exposed to opiates while still in the womb. When they’re born, they feel the full effects of withdrawal.

Health care professionals are now trying to come up with ways to track and deal with the problem more effectively.